Henning Wolter Trio – “Undercover Job”

July 29, 2013


Henning Wolter - "Undercover Job"The new album by the Henning Wolter Trio is built around a concept that possesses more layers than one might initially assume.  An homage to the secret agents and locales of fiction (and those of real life and adapted for fiction), Wolter has dedicated each song to one such device, seeking to give an approximation of the person or place via jazz piano trio.  But this isn’t necessarily easy, as secret agents are meant to be deceptive, to remain unseen and unmeasurable… and the fictional ones do an even better than job than their reality-based counterparts.  Add to this, Wolter’s subtle approach to each subject, rendering face-value observation obsolete, and requiring that the listener go a little bit deeper to find the connections.

Your album personnel:  Henning Wolter (piano, composition), Lucien Matheeuwsen (bass), and Marcel van Cleef (drums).

For instance, on the album track dedicated to Lawrence of Arabia (“Sensitive”), Wolter could’ve simply anchored his melody to that of Maurice Jarre‘s Academy Award winning soundtrack to the movie, but instead, Wolter’s trio offers up a contemplative movement to represent the shifting sands of the desert crossed by Lawrence, and, perhaps also, the nature of the character’s shifting allegiances.

The subject of “Hear the Signs” is the very real codebreaker Alan Turning and the very real Bletchey Park, both instrumental in the decryption of Germany code during WWII at the UK’s Government Code & Cypher School (and later referenced in a number of fictional works in popular media).  An up-tempo piece, Wolter’s trio begins with an identifiable melody that develops into increasingly complex statements and unexpected turns, before returning to a simpler, more refined version of the original.

Another real location referenced by an album track is Glienicke Bridge, which connected East and West Berlin, and where real-life spy exchanges were made during the Cold War (and later used in a John Le Carre novel).  The percussion is the sound of footfalls, and the arco bass like darkness enveloping piano’s moonlight, and yet aside from the potent imagery the music incites, the song is played pretty straight in terms of modern jazz fare… perhaps reflecting that, despite the bridge’s use as a device in popular culture, there is no obfuscating the grim reality surrounding the bridge’s use and how it symbolized the division of a country’s freedoms.

Also getting a mention is Ethan Hunt, the main character in the Mission Impossible movies, and completely absent from the cast on the original TV show.  “New Hero Nowhere” is a chipper rhythm and a grinning melody, strangely detached from the hyperactivity of the movies, yet symbolic of its casual disposition toward violence.  A darker tone peeks out from the tune at the song’s center, which builds into a frenetic pace before coming back to the happier tone from whence it began.  Later, on the “New Hero Nowhere (Reprise),” a bass arco opening leads into a brief tune that returns to the darker tones that the original rendition only hinted at.

The song “Supermarket” has Jason Bourne as its theme.  A tune with a driving cadence interspersed by postures of restraint.  The Bourne character has been reinvented many times depending on author and director.  Even in the original scribes of the character, the name was used by many different spies long after the namesake’s death in the jungles of Tam Quan.  The song has a linear shape to it, with the changes reflected through rhythm as if adjusting a heartbeat to blend with the environment.

Mata Hari, a real life exotic dancer who used her charms as tools in the trade as secret agent spy, has been adopted as the femme fatale achetype in any number of pop culture mediums… from the thrillers of James Bond to the novels of Kurt Vonnegut to the b-movie erotica of Sylvia Kristel to the wartime sitcom of Hogan’s Heroes.  On “Mercury Dance,” the trio maintains a melancholy tone, even when the tempo rises, reflecting, perhaps, the real-life Mata Hari’s (aka Margaretha MacLeod’s) tragic early life and unfortunate end.

The snappy “Tell Me Your Number” is another James Bond reference… in this instance, Miss Moneypenny, M’s witty secretary, a character whose backstory has never been entirely fleshed out by Ian Fleming or his successors.  Sometimes Moneypenny is the flirtatious administrator, sometimes the former secret agent who burned out from the experience and just wanted to retire to a desk job.  For Wolter’s rendition, it appears he’s going with the former interpretation.

The album opens and closes with two piano solos.  The “002 1/2″ from “The New Game” title is a reference to the secret code name Wolter adopts for the album, and the “Bascrobat & Taxi” referring to Matheeuwsen and van Cleef on album closer “The Old Game.”  Both are introspective pieces, and provide a nice austere counterbalance to the quickly changing tides of the album’s subjects and songs.

A neat concept and pulled off very nicely.  I recall when it hit the new releases listing back around the end of 2012.  I never got much of a chance to give it a serious listen, but something about it always struck me as something a notch above the rest.  Over time, I got around to spending more time with it, and now, several months later, I find myself returning to it with some frequency.  Easy to like, and plenty of faces to reveal.

Released on the Mons Records label.

Jazz from the Much, Germany scene.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: MP3

The trio has set up a special promotional site specific to the CD that is centered around a game, in which the user is a secret agent and searches for clues and attempts to find the prize.  It’s a cute game, and it’s also a crafty idea, providing an example of the kind of things that jazz artists can do to attract attention to their recordings in a new internet era.

In the Country – “Sunset Sunrise”

June 4, 2013


In the Country - "Sunset Sunrise"The Norwegian trio In the Country are back with their fourth studio release, and it serves as something of an encapsulation of everything that has come before.

On their 2005 debut, This Was the Pace Of My Heartbeat, they created quiet tunes for quiet times, and offered melodies with indistinct form and a smokey presence.  Their second studio album, the 2006 release Losing Stones, Collecting Bones brought a lightness to the modern Nordic piano trio sound, a pop music sensibility that gave serious music a fun attitude and the occasional catchy hook.  Tracks like “Kung Fu Boys” illustrated that the trio could craft a tight song if they wanted to, and that their tendency of dispersing the melody on other tracks was one of creative decision-making.  Their 2009 release Whiteout built on their propensity to create oblique melodies and sustain a veneer of serenity, but with the added dimension of generating intensity through rhythmic repetition.  A track like “Doves Dance” begins with a quiet demeanor, but soon enough speaks loud and clear, whereas “Ursa Major” leaves the gate already at a gallop.

But their newest, Sunset Sunrise, has them making a return of sorts to the sound of their debut album This Was the Pace Of My Heartbeat… though as with any sort of creative development, the qualities picked up along the way inform the present vision, and thus the quiet disposition of their debut has been imbued with a weightiness previously lacking, and a tendency to abandon serenity and build up a head of steam.

Your album personnel:  Morten Qvenild (hyper grand piano, electronics), Roger Arntzen (double bass, electronics), and Pal Hausken (drums, percussion, vibraphone, electronics).

The album opens with “Birch Song,” an elegant tune that glides slowly along, like skaters across a frozen pond.  Piano kicks up frozen notes, bass adds an element of fluid motion, and drums tap along a path and do more listening than talking.  And just when the song has cemented in place the idea that it’s shown all it has to show, it flies off the edge of a cliff into something far more ominous.  Dark tones, electronic crackles and crashes, and a moodiness that won’t quit.

This leads into the second track “Derrick,” which has a deceptive patience, giving the sense of slowly expressing itself in the midst of a pulsing tempo.  And this, too, is immediately discarded for third track “Stanley Park,” which begins with somber introspection, but then slowly builds intensity through repetition and rhythm.  It gives the impression that it’ll last until the final note, but instead, it subsides, and is replaced with something more soulful.  Drums establish a groove, which bass develops into a swagger, while piano stays cool and blue.  It’s one of the more surprising turns of hat on this album, and it acts as a moment of revelation of what this album has to offer and what it reflects.

Because at most times during the first third of Sunset Sunrise, the album seemed to lack direction and cohesion.  The trio seemed to be turning their back on ideas and moving on too quickly to the next before the last was completed.  But like any decent character development in a story, sometimes not all facts and elements are fleshed out in the beginning… sometimes, as the story is told, the details that fall in between the established facts reveal themselves as the plot develops.  That’s what the trio has put in play here.

The glimpse of an idea in the opening track is further embellished in fourth track “Silverspring,” as a moody piano-led piece that sparks with life directly in the face of an austere tone transitions deftly into the hopping exuberance of “Steelpants,” with theremin-like electronics whipping across the surface of the rhythm.

And “The Fluke, a Whale’s Tail” simply drifts along at the slowest pace, settling into a simple beauty that doesn’t need to hurry to shine.  But then, as established earlier in the album, the trio begins to build up from a serene place, becoming less quiet, less content to simply drift, eventually hitting its stride for the homestretch and ending with a bang.  This pattern is repeated on the title-track, before ending the album with a return to serenity, with the pretty “December Song.”

The current recording serving as something of a summation of all that’s come before, it’ll be interesting to see which direction the trio decides next to follow.

Released on the ACT Music label.

Jazz from the Oslo, Norway scene.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3

Like Stone, Like Smoke: Pascal Le Boeuf – “Pascal’s Triangle” & “Remixed”

May 17, 2013


Pascal Le Boeuf has just released a pair of interesting new recordings that, individually, hold their own each as solid performances, but it’s how they work as points of comparison, as poles of complementary function and point of view that provides the real intrigue.

Pascal Le Boeuf - "Pascal's Triangle"Pascal’s Triangle is a nice modern piano trio recording.  With Linda Oh on bass and Justin Brown on drums, pianist Le Boeuf sets a course on piano that relishes skipping over choppy waves at high speed while kicking out some decent melodies along the way.

Some tracks, like album opener “Home In Strange Places,” start out with a light touch before developing into something fuller and stronger, yet still recognizable as the seed from whence the song blossomed.  And then there are tracks like “Variations On a Mood,” which begin at a brisk pace which catapults the song into pounding rhythmic interludes.

Not unlike the trio projects of Brad Mehldau, Le Boeuf’s trio maintains a snappy, unhurried tempo, and melodic development that sounds effortlessly streamlined, fluid.  Le Boeuf’s trio sets an anchor in the middle of modern Jazz waters.  It’s the kind of thing that sends out ripples to draw others closer.

It’s also vastly different from the mutable presence of his other new release, Remixed.

Le Boeuf Brothers - "Remixed"With the general premise of giving jazz musicians an opportunity to let loose their inner-DJ, Pascal and his brother Remy (the Le Boeuf Brothers) invited David Binney, Tim Lefebvre, Jochen Rueckert, Kissy Girls, Lucky Luke & Armand Hirsch into the studio to go about the challenge of remixing tracks from the Le Boeuf Brothers 2011 release In Praise of Shadows… itself an intriguing example of how jazz musicians are using technology and the influence of modern music as part of their own repertoire.

It’s nowhere even remotely near the center of Jazz waters.  And the ripples it sends out go off into new territories, never to return, and in some cases, attracts followers along the way.

The thing of it is, while the electric Remixed is, at most, an ethereal companion to the solid rock foundation of Pascal’s Triangle‘s piano trio, it’s a logical next step from In Praise of Shadows.  The blips and buzzes of the remixed “Red Velvet” may differentiate it from the original, but they still share the same essential bright notes and warm enthusiasm.  The remixed version of “For Every Kiss” makes more of a home for the crooner, and the keyboards dig in a bit deeper, but both versions possess the dramatic builds and crashes that reflect the heart of the song.  On the remix, “Fire Dancing” lays on the drum & bass far thicker than the original, but in both versions, it’s still all about the beat… a quality further accentuated on the original version by the spry tenor sax dancing circles around the rhythm.

Or how about “Calgary Clouds,”

Which, when remixed, becomes a boiling cauldron of percussion and effects…

And though In Praise of Shadows is a Jazz album, it was sticking its beak into waters that featured the harmonic layering of a Radiohead, the pop-ambient electronica of Air, the thumping beats of drum ‘n bass outfits, the shimmering warped vocals of trip-hop, the blips, buzzes, and melodic glides of any number of straight-up electronica acts, and the mixing and production tricks of all those arenas.  Remixed is just a fuller realization of those experiments presented on In Praise of Shadows.  It’s almost natural.

It’s also a world away from Pascal’s Triangle.

But a world is such a small measure of expanse in the mind of an artist.  Universes, often, aren’t enough to encapsulate all the creative thoughts bouncing around inside their heads.  It’s a big reason why I enjoy how Remixed behaves as an interesting part of the whole picture… more than I even enjoy it simply as a music recording.  There’s the medium, and then there’s the vision which inspired it.  It’s not required to enjoy both elements of a creative piece, but it sure does make it a lot more fun and engaging.  That’s what we have here.

Both Pascal’s Triangle & Remixed released on the Nineteen-Eight Records label.

Jazz from NYC.

Pascal’s Triangle available on the artist’s bandcamp page.  Available at eMusic.

Remixed:  Available to stream (and purchase) at the artist’s Bandcamp page.  Also, available at eMusic, available at Amazon: CD | MP3


Le Boeuf Brothers - "In Praise of Shadows"And, if you’re interested in checking out In Praise of Shadows

Available to stream (and purchase) at the artist’s Bandcamp page.

Also, available at eMusic, available at Amazon: CD | MP3

Hypnotic Zone – “La Justice, les Filles et l’Eternite”

April 10, 2013


Hypnotic Zone - "La Justice, les Filles et l'Eternite"The piano trio going by the name of Hypnotic Zone offers up La Justice, les Filles et l’Eternite, an album with a singular personality… rich with eccentric quirks and off-kilter traits.  At times, it’s quite expressive of the Austrian jazz scene, often treading the same territory as ECM label artists who hail from the same land.  But this is just one side of this album with a dual personality.  Many moments of serenity suddenly dissipate into thin air, replaced by the swirling chaos of dissonant notes and relentless percussion.  It makes for an unsettling reaction.

But then, with time, the music’s patterns become more evident, the way the music respires and the way it drifts, and how it transitions between those two states of existence.  It’s not an album perpetually in flux… it just feels that way at times.

Your album personnel:  Villy Paraskevopoulos (piano), Stefan Thaler (bass), and Niki Dolp (drums).

On tracks like “Jupiter” and “Nocturne,” Paraskevopoulos offers up thoughtful expressions on piano, sometimes angelically and sometimes with a growl, and often within the span of the same tune, but he also shows flashes of dexterity on keys, as on the up-tempo “Bo-Ba.”

Bassist Thaler displays a refreshing panache soloing out on “Interlude #3,” but he really shines when he doubles back and outflanks the rhythm on tracks like “Introspectracular,” darkening the shadowy foundation of the songs, and providing an emotional charge that lofts the tunes up to something a little more special.

Dolp approaches the drum work aggressively, and it’s a big reason why the album possesses such a formidable presence.  Even when the trio maintains a quiet disposition, Dolp makes sure they never enter a defensive crouch.  Each song feels like it could spring to life and at any moment, and that presumed volatility keeps the ear on its toes.  On “Semira’s Dream,” drums keep more to the back of the mix, with piano and bass bringing the volume, yet Dolp is the most expressive of the three, punctuating the sentences of his trio mates as the launching point into his own statements.  The rollicking album-opener “Introspectracular” reflects this approach, too.  Dolp sets the pace of a forced march, and the melody becomes a slap in the face.

The few interludes throughout the album serve as nice transitions between songs.  There’s an art to utilizing interludes within an album… the risk is making them superfluous, and rendering the conclusions of songs and the subsequent beginnings as something awkward and lacking cohesion.  The key is building just enough personality into the interludes to make them worthy of remark, and using as ingredients the elements of the songs that bookend them.  That’s done quite well on this recording.  Most notably, in how the ferocity of opening track “Introspectracular” is allowed to slide into the gentle thoughtfulness of “Jupiter.”

The album ends with an extrapolation of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedies,” titled “Satie’s Little Blues Waltz.”  Aside from being spectacularly clever, it’s an ingenious way to end this album.  Up to this point, the music was focused on the duality of serenity and dissonance, yet in the album’s final moment of expression, it fuses those two elements into a warm, inviting tune, but one that still has some bite to it.

This may be one of those albums that take a little while to settle in.  From my perspective, it’s worth the investment.  With subsequent listens, this CD gets stored incrementally closer to my stereo.

Released on the Listen Closely label.

Jazz from the Vienna, Austria scene.

Cover art by Christos Kapatos.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: MP3

Tiny Reviews: David Caldwell-Mason, Michael Feinberg, Andrei Pushkarev, Flu(o), Massimorganti Quartet & Parallaxe

March 15, 2013

Tiny Reviews edition!

Featured album: David Caldwell-Mason Cold Snap.

Plus:  Michael Feinberg The Elvin Jones Project, Andrei Pushkarev Bach VibrationsFlu(o) Encore Remuants, Massimorganti Quartet Musiplano, and Parallaxe Der Zweite Raum.



David Caldwell-Mason – Cold Snap

David Caldwell-Mason - "Cold Snap"Possessing an intuitive knack at creating strong melodies, pianist David Caldwell-Mason displays that he also knows how to showcase them.  Because there’s more to the melody than just making it memorable.  Equally important are the abstractions and sleights-of-hand, the heady deconstructions and altered restatements of the melody to get it to sit plumb with the other song elements while simultaneously keeping things interesting.  On Cold Snap, Caldwell-Mason nails it.

Your album personnel:  David Caldwell-Mason (piano), Kellen Harrison (bass), and Ari Hoenig (drums).

There is a clear pop music presence to this msuic, and Caldwell-Mason’s unpretentious embrace of that characteristic allows him to mutate it into shapes and sizes that take it a refreshing distance from a product designed for mass consumption, all the while ending up with a recording that might just appeal to the tastes of that same crowd.

The album opens with “Unfold.”  A melody with an appealing staggered gait, it triggers a sense of deja vu, of something memorable dipped in nostalgia of things past.  “Don’t Worry, Mama” is a series of diagonal passes perpetually intersecting… a game of hopscotch where the chalk lines never stay in one place.  The playfulness with the motion around melodies continues on “With Fear and Trembling,” where Caldwell-Mason develops phrasings on piano like mysterious staircases leading upward, then glides down the bannister before beginning the climb all over again.  His rendition of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” is genuine and unironic, which is the reason he’s able to pull it off.  He treats the composition’s melody with care and respect, and then launches off into his own view of the song from there.

It’s an album of moments like these.  Music that remains fun and easy to engage.

This album is Self-Produced.

Jazz from the

Available at Amazon: CD | MP3


Other Albums of Interest:


Michael Feinberg – The Elvin Jones Project

Michael Feinberg - "The Elvin Jones Project"Bassist Michael Feinberg‘s inspiration for this album was the result of his observations of the relationships various Coltrane bassists had with drummer Elvin Jones. For this session, he has drummer-extraordinaire Billy Hart sitting in “Elvin’s chair”… an inspired choice that gives the room some extra space to breathe.  A wonderful album of beautifully textured music, and one hundred percent Jazz, top-shelf vintage.

Your album personnel: Michael Feinberg (bass), Billy Hart (drums), George Garzone (sax), Tim Hagans (trumpet), Leo Genovese (piano), and guest: Alex Wintz (guitar).

Released on the Sunnyside Records label.

Available at eMusic.


Andrei Pushkarev – Bach Vibrations

Andrei Pushkarev - "Bach Vibrations"Solo vibraphone performance of Bach’s “Inventions For Two Voices.” A surprisingly vibrant album, and not unlike how pianist Bill Evans would approach jazz through classical music. Nice.

Your album personnel: Andrei Pushkarev (vibes).

Released on the Gramola Records label.

Available at eMusic.


Flu(o) – Encore Remuants

Flu(o) - "Encore Remuants"Modern jazz-rock fusion, often heavier on the latter of those two elements. Electronic effects, mostly for the sake of textural dissonance. Some interesting moments. I don’t know if Cuong Vu was the father of this type of jazz-rock fusion, but this album sounds as if inspired by him.

Your album personnel: Christian Pruvost (trumpet), Olivier Benoit (guitar), Stefan Orins (piano), Christophe Hache (bass), and Peter Orins (drums)

Released on the Circum-disc label.

Available at eMusic.


Massimorganti Quartet – Musiplano

Massimorganti Quartet - "Musiplano"Trombonist Massimo Morganti leads a peaceable quartet in an exploration of the melodic side of trombone.  A few covers, a few originals.  It’s mostly straight-ahead jazz, though with a modern flair, both in terms of composition and the occasional use of effects.  Very likable.

Your album personnel:  Massimo Morganti (trombone), Angelo Lazzeri (guitar),  Gabriele Pesaresi (bass), and Stefano Paolini (drums).

Released on the Neuklang Records label.  Stream an album track on their soundcloud page.

Available at eMusic.


Parallaxe – Der Zweite Raum

Parallaxe - "Der Zweite Raum"The Parallaxe quartet is very much from the mod Euro-Jazz scene, which means you’ll get some avant-garde-ish stuttering tempos and angular melodies, but somehow they’ll fit in some time to swing and bop, too.  Enjoyable album.

Your album personnel: Daniel Schmitz (trumpet), Oliver Maas (piano), Jan Östreich (bass), and Christian Fischer (drums).

Released on the Gligg Records label.

Available at eMusic.



The David Caldwell-Mason review is original to Bird is the Worm, but portions of the other reviews were originally used in my Jazz Picks weekly article for eMusic, so here’s some language protecting their rights to that reprinted material as the one to hire me to write about new jazz arrivals to their site…

New Arrivals Jazz Picks,“ and “New Arrivals Jazz Picks“ and “New Arrivals Jazz Picks” reprints courtesy of eMusic.com, Inc.
© 2012  eMusic.com, Inc.

As always, my sincere thanks to eMusic for the gig.  Cheers.